OTTAWA - The RCMP says it is examining senators' expense claims following an independent audit and pointed reports from the upper chamber's internal economy committee.
But the Mounties stressed Sunday it was too early to know whether they will open a full-fledged investigation into accusations that three senators improperly claimed a housing allowance.
At issue is whether Conservative Mike Duffy, former Conservative Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb were truly eligible for the allowance, intended to compensate senators who must maintain a secondary residence in Ottawa.
The matter is currently with the RCMP national division's sensitive and international investigations section, said Sgt. Julie Gagnon, a force spokeswoman.
Based upon an evaluation of the information at hand, the RCMP "may or may not initiate an investigation," she said.
"The RCMP is not in a position to comment further on this specific matter at this time."
Generally, the RCMP would confirm an investigation only in the event that it results in criminal charges, Gagnon said. "Should the investigation not generate sufficient evidence to support the laying of criminal charges, the RCMP would conclude its file."
Confirmation the RCMP is looking into the matter capped days of charged debate, finger-pointing and speculation over the contentious issue of Senate entitlements.
Directed by the Senate's internal economy committee to study the work and travel patterns of the three senators, independent auditor Deloitte concluded Duffy, Brazeau and Harb live primarily in the national capital region, but that the rules governing housing claims were unclear.
Still, the Tory-dominated committee said in the cases of Harb and Brazeau the rules were "amply clear," and that the two senators must pay back the housing allowances they claimed.
Under the rules, senators whose "primary residence" is more than 100 kilometres from the national capital region may claim legitimate travel expenses as well as living expenses while in the capital for Senate business.
The committee's reports on both Brazeau and Harb say that "plainly, if a Senator resides primarily in the (national capital region), he or she should not be claiming living expenses for the (region)."
No such language was used in the committee report on Duffy, which noted he had voluntarily repaid $90,172 in allowance monies.
That led Senate Opposition leader James Cowan to accuse the Conservatives of going easy on Duffy, a high-profile former television journalist appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to represent Prince Edward Island.
Harb listed a home in Westmeath, Ont., northwest of Ottawa, as his chief residence. He has signalled he will go to court to fight an order to reply $51,500, and has resigned from the Liberal caucus in the meantime.
Brazeau, who claimed a primary residence in Maniwaki, Que., was kicked out of the Conservative caucus this year after being charged with assault and sexual assault.
Cowan said Sunday he would welcome an RCMP probe of the housing allowance claims.
"My personal preference is that they do that," the Liberal senator said in an interview.
"I've always felt that, when you have a situation like this and you've got large sums of public money involved, that if it looks like the Senate is simply closing ranks around its own, that that is a difficult concept to sell."
Cowan said members of the public he's heard from are "puzzled and they're angry."
Having said this, he feels the Senate handled the matter appropriately by calling in the external auditors.
Related on HuffPost:
Pamela Wallin, at Tory senator from Saskatchewan, also found her expense claims under close scrutiny in Februrary when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/pamela-wallin-travel-expenses-harper_n_2680229.html" target="_blank">she billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011, and Feb. 29, 2012</a>. But only $10,551.99 of her expenses were related to travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, while the remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "Other." Questions were also raised about whether or not she satisfied the residency requirement needed to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper Chamber. Wallin split her time between Toronto and New York prior to being named a senator in 2008, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/senate-residency-pamela-wallin-duffy_n_2648325.html" target="_blank">does own a plot of land in the province and two properties with family members.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Patrick Brazeau first came under fire in December of 2012 amid reports he was using <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">his former father-in-law's address </a>in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living in Gatineau, just across the river from Parliament Hill. The Senate Board of Internal Economy subsequently asked an auditor to look at Brazeau's residency claims and expenses. In early February, Brazeau was arrested and charged with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">assault and sexual assault </a>after a heated argument with his girlfriend turned violent. The charges promptly got Brazeau turfed from the Conservative caucus. On February 12, Brazeau was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/canadians-growing-ever-we_n_2667332.html" target="_blank">suspended indefinitely </a>from the Upper Chamber. <em>With files from CP</em>
Conservative Mike Duffy also courted controversy over his housing allowance. The P.E.I. senator <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">claimed his cottage in Cavendish as his primary residence</a> and his long-time in home in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, as a secondary residence for which he collected $33,000 in living allowances he since 2010. While always maintaining he was entitled to the compensation, Duffy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">vowed on February 22 to repay the money</a>. He blamed the entire issue on confusing and vague Senate paperwork. <em>With files from CP</em>
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Quebec, came under fire in early March when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/03/pierre-hugues-boisvenu-senate_n_2803052.html?utm_hp_ref=pierre-boisvenu" target="_blank">he collected a housing allowance of $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.</a> Boisvenu claimed his primary residence was in Sherbrooke, but sources said he had been staying at his secondary residence in Gatineau since separating from his wife in February, 2012. Boisvenu was then forced to admit in March that he had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">carrying on a relationship with an aide, Isabelle Lapointe</a>. The Senate ethics officer had told him last year that he couldn't have his girlfriend on the office payroll but Boisvenu ignored the warning for months. The two have since split up and Lapointe is now working elsewhere. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">Boisvenu has repaid the $900 stipend he collected while living with Lapointe for three months near Ottawa.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Liberal senator Mac Harb also had his expenses audited after it was discovered that he claimed <a href="http://metronews.ca/news/canada/560000/senate-controversy-senator-mac-harbs-home-in-the-spotlight/" target="_blank">about $40,212 in living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa from Nov. 30, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012</a>. Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims his primary residence is <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senator-harb-rarely-seen-in-area-he-calls-home-neighbours-1.1198184" target="_blank">a bungalow in the tiny village of Westmeath</a>, but neighbours claim that nobody lives there year-round and that it is basically a cottage.
UP NEXT: The Many Faces Of Pamela Wallin
UP NEXT: Twitter Users Unhappy With Wallin